Being Present and Productive – Issue 1

In our world today, 15 things are competing for our attention at any given moment – the phone call you have to return, a child crying in the backseat of the car, a dinging text message, a meeting with a client in 10 minutes, the gas light popping on… the list never stops. How can we master being present while not ignoring the growing list of action items?

Most of it comes down to discipline and humility. It’s a real challenge to let some fires be put out by others. It really does require humility – after all, the one who brings a bucket of water is the hero. They are someone who is needed. They feel affirmed and important to the team when their decisive leadership is required at every turn. While the seductive, superhero fighting may seem extraordinary to those outside, what’s left to those inside is a room full of team members who mostly only remember them for their empty chair.

When talking about “staying present” and “being engaged” in your work, we’re talking about doing everything in your power to avoid impressing the 50 strangers watching your work from a distance while ignoring your closest team members who directly support you and have the same final goals and mission in mind. It reminds me of how easy it can be to be short with family members but would never have a tone with a periphery friend. We do that, because we’re comfortable and believe our inner circles will love and respect us despite our circumstances or attitudes. This may be true, but it’s certainly no justification for treating them poorly or running to something more alluring/interesting/fun/fame-worthy – this list goes on too, and you know far better than me what has the power to attract you.

This blog is one of a series on how to be present and productive at once. As a first step, this first issue is addressing the art of listening well. One of the biggest ways to overcome the hurdle of rushing away is to cement your ears on the topic and person at hand. People who rush off – all of us, at times – aren’t bad people. They are simply people distracted by a very distracting world. Keep that in mind if you have one of these “frequent flyers” in your life – it’s really not about you, it’s actually about them and their ability to stay disciplined and listen well. If you see some of these tendencies in yourself and want to be better about valuing the people right in front of you, start by listening better. You can do this today.

Here are a few ways to do that, loosely taken from this Harvard Business Review article, and I’ll post a few more blogs on “staying present” throughout this year. Be sure to watch for them in this series! Tips for all of us:

  • This rule sounds easy but you may be surprised to see how often you actually violate it: Don’t speak when other people are talking. This does not mean being silent and repeating what you want to say over and over in your head until there is a pause in conversation. Consider listening to someone like you would to a song. It is telling you a story with a beginning, middle, and end and pressing pause constantly to ask questions or provide input would be premature and wreck the song.
  • Be engaged and interactive in that discussion. Make good eye contact and try to understand the substance and root of the conversation. This person obviously thinks it’s worth their time to tell you, and odds are they value time management just like you and don’t want to just waste your time.
  • Show them that they are worth more than your $750 iPhone. I’m not talking about passing in the hall and expecting a no-phone zone, but when you’re in an important meeting strategizing or working through barriers, your team has earned the right to your attention for 30, 60, 90 minutes. Reinforce to them that you don’t have to look at your phone just because it dings in your direction and that they’re more important to you than a lit up, 3-inch screen.
  • Be able to repeat – word for word – what that conversation was about and connect it to its greater context. It’ll be very affirming for the person speaking to know you really heard the actual heart behind what they were saying.

That’s the point after all – more productivity, more efficiency, more connectivity resulting in better products and services. There’s a direct line tying how well you listen to how well you produce. In what ways have you become a better listener or when have you felt really heard in the workplace?


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